Thursday, July 10, 2008


Boy, it’s amazing what you can do with a pair of binoculars. The story that’s going around is that Andrew Stanton, one of the Pixar creators, was playing with his binoculars at an A’s game when a new character was born. The character became WALL*E, short for Waste Allocation Load- Lifter Earth-class. It’s immediately apparent that WALL*E was left after the humans could no longer stand the pollution on Earth. However, WALL*E is basically clueless, a theme that runs through his life, and he continues with his old job, which is taking scrap metal and pounding it into small squares.

We spend the first half of the film meeting WALL*E and going through his routine. One of the most fun parts of the movie is visiting his little haven, where he goes at night when the work is all done. He collects little objects that look neat but whose function escapes him, and he brings them all to the shelves in his home. He shares his home with a roach, who feeds continually on an old twinkie he has lying around. The joke is even funnier when we discover that the humans left the planet some 700 years ago, and the roach and the twinkie are still around. While I doubt little kids are going to get the joke, we adults over a certain age certainly will.

And so there are several levels on which this movie works, both for adults and kids. First, it’s a cute little story that makes you care for this little bucket of bolts. Then, it’s a love story. And the love story is set up by something totally out of left field – a Hello, Dolly movie VHS tape. WALL*E continually watches the old movie, watching the actors strut down the street with their straw hats, and we watch WALL*E try to duplicate the dance with a hub cap. It’s rather funny, it’s very touching, and instantly we know who WALL*E is. He’s industrious but he’s lonely. And he has an artist’s soul.

There’s a little more to the Hello, Dolly story: the movie also shows another scene, where our hero reaches for his date’s hand. WALL*E focuses in on this, knows what it means, and hungers for it.

And then EVE comes to town and changes everything. When she’s called back to the home ship, we see WALL*E cling to the outside of the space ship as it zooms through the Earth’s atmosphere, past the Sputnik satellite, and into space. But isn’t that what we all do when we fall in love? We hold on for dear life to the side of the spaceship as it flies into unknown territory. Love is loopier than a roller coaster, and WALL*E is totally committed to do whatever it takes. The kids watching are worried about him and hoping he’s all right, and the adults are worried about him and hoping he’ll be all right.

There are a lot of little "inside" jokes here with references to Rubik's cube, the old pong game, the sounds of an Apple computer rebooting. I found it all hilarious that it all exists so many years later, and we can enjoy their uniqueness as collectibles along with WALL*E.

I have a problem here in that I thought I had a number 1 favorite Pixar film, and then, with the advent of Ratatouille, a number 2 favorite. And now, WALL*E may now be my favorite, it’s that good. I also have to change my opinion about the 1969 Hello, Dolly film, which I thought was one of the worst films ever made; I now see a use for it, at least one use that will take place in a few hundred years.

Thumb’s up for the newest Pixar film!

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Friday, July 04, 2008

The Diving Bell & the Butterfly, The Negotiator, The Pursuit of Happyness

Going through my old DVDs. I actually liked all three of these. Two of them are based on true stories.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly:
Stylistic movie about a French man who suffers a massive stroke and wakes up to find he's paralyzed except for his eyes. One eye, however, is troublesome and is sewn shut. He learns how to communicate by blinking the one eye, working with the remarkable women in the hospital.

The movie is actually a wonder to watch. We don't worry too much about chronology because it's all very clear: when you see him young and fresh and moving around, we're obviously watching scenes from his life as he relives it in his brain. It's certainly an incredible acting job by Matheieu Amalric; imagine sitting there with one eye open wide, taking in everything but not being able to really "react." Plus an incredibly impactful acting job by Max Von Sydow in a small role as the man's father. The movie acts mostly as a kaleidoscope of his life, seen by an internal eye, and what he does with his remaining time. I did not, however, have a really good sense as to who this man was before the stroke, and thus I didn't really feel the impact of who the man became after the stroke.

The Negotiator: I thoroughly enjoyed this action film starring Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson, even though I was startled to find out it had been made 10 years ago. Lots of twists and turns in this story of a policeman who acts as a negotiator in hostage situations when he takes hostages himself. Spacey is brought in as the negotiator for this negotiator. Another startling thing in watching this movie: many of the fine character actors in this film are now deceased, which is sad, including J.T. Walsh and John Spencer, who both died in their 50's.

The Pursuit of Happyness: The most sensitive portrayal by Will Smith yet, as he breaks from his summer-movie bravado to portray the true-life picture of a man who is down in life but who, in spite of all the odds, goes for the opportunity to make his and his son's life better. The last scene is really effective, as we read the news of the new job on Will Smith's face. This is academy award material.

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